Paint Schoodic

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Monday, July 31, 2017

The lesson of pacing yourself

It’s a great idea, but when God ordains something else, you’d best go along quietly.

Mary Day returns to her home port, by Carol L. Douglas.
Tad Retz is the perfect houseguest. He’s stayed here twice and is so unobtrusive that I’ve never actually met him. I do know his older brother, animator Zac Retz, whom I met in a cemetery.

Tad arrived late Saturday night and left very early Sunday morning. I would have stopped to see him before church, but he had already finished painting and catapulted off to his next destination.

Contemplating that amount of energy is exhausting. Then I remember that Tad is the same age as my youngest child. It’s no surprise that he bounces around like a corn kernel on a hot griddle.

The motto of coastal Maine ought to be, “make hay while the sun shines.” That’s also the guiding principle of plein air painting, and art festivals and craft shows. Spin like a dervish while you can, and rest after the season ends.

Still, everyone needs some down time. I received a horrifying photo from a friend. She has a second infection in her face. Last year it was a sinus infection run amok; this time it’s in her eyes. Like me, she works an intensive summer season. Cutting corners and being overtired resulted in some impressively ugly mug shots.

I try to identify the signs of overwork before I get sick. On Thursday, I painted at Rockport harbor. I forgot my palette, so I whipped home to collect it. I careened back into the closest parking spot, only to realize my brush holder wasn’t in my backpack.

You can't finish a painting when your central boat leaves, or that's my excuse.
At noon, the central boat in my composition cast off its buoy and headed out. I packed up, and found a parking ticket on my windshield. “Three strikes and you’re out,” I told myself. Instead of working, I went out to lunch.

Noting that I’m mucking up small things usually stops me from screwing up spectacularly. I have a busy week ahead and then I’m on the road for three weeks. I will steal my rest where I can in the coming days.

Still, I’m flying to Baltimore as you read this, on a 24-hour, last-minute visit. I wish the circumstances could be different, mainly because I’m going to pray with a friend who’s gravely ill with cancer.

“I’m no good at it,” I told my friend Helen when the idea first burrowed into my consciousness. Years ago, my cousin was in hospice in Atlanta. I picked up my brother in Virginia and we tore down I-81.

Self portrait with cancer, charcoal, by Carol L. Douglas.
We arrived to learn that she’d just awakened from her coma. She moved from hospice to rehab and lived another eighteen months.

I told this to Helen as an example of how my praying didn't matter. She read it differently. “I think you need to go to Baltimore,” she said. I gasped as I grabbed the implication.

And so, I go. You can set your sights on Tarshish, but if you’re supposed to go to Nineveh, you’d best just get on with it.

Friday, July 28, 2017

How do people stay awake to paint nocturnes?

At their best, nocturnes strip away all extraneous detail, leaving us with powerful impressions and nothing more.
Nocturne in Gray and Gold, Westminster Bridge, c. 1871-1874, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Courtesy Glasgow Museums.
I’m preparing for my workshop at Schoodic Institute, which starts on August 6. There will be a full moon on August 7. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this is known as the “Sturgeon Moon” because Native Americans fished for these big brutes at that time. Why they wanted sturgeon in the first place is not explained. Perhaps they fed it to their enemies.

If the weather cooperates, we’ll be painting a nocturne one night that week. We haven’t had that opportunity for several years. The jack pines and thundering surf should make excellent foils for the moon over the water.

The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog, 1894, Winslow Homer, courtesy Memorial Art Gallery of Rochester
As delicious as this sounds—and I’m quite looking forward to it—it’s also the most worrisome part of the workshop for me. I’m the antithesis of a night owl. By 8:30 PM I’m yawning uncontrollably. Luckily for me the moonrise is going to be at 7:49 PM. I ought to manage a few brushstrokes before I’m fast asleep.

It’s a pity, because I love nocturnes. They’re mysterious, edgy, moody. In fact, I’m working on one right now—on the easel in my studio, where I can look at it in the full light of day.

The Polish Rider, c. 1655, Rembrandt van Rijn, courtesy Frick Collection.
“Nocturne” started out as a musical term; it was introduced to painting by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. His nocturnes are reductions to value studies and focus on composition.

Whistler did not invent night painting. It’s integral to chiaroscuro, meaning that it was used by everyone from Caravaggio on. Rembrandt famously used it in The Night Watch, (1642).

Moonlight Wolf c. 1909, Frederic Remington, courtesy Addison Gallery of American Art.

Frederic Remington started his career as an illustrator, gradually moving to fine painting and sculpture. Around 1900 he started a series of paintings focusing on the color of the night. By his death in 1909, he had painted more than seventy nocturnes. They are filled with color, but they also shroud his illustrative temperament in mystery.

One of my favorite paintings of Maine, Rooms for Tourists by Edward Hopper, wasn’t painted in Maine at all. It’s 142 Bradford Street, Provincetown, MA. While it exists today, it’s awfully swank compared to its 1945 incarnation.

Rooms for Tourists, 1945, Edward Hopper. Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery. 
At the time he painted it, it was a private residence. By cloaking it in darkness, Hopper could strip away all extraneous details, leaving only a coastal boarding house.

The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog (1894) features Winslow Homer’s trademark diagonal composition, but is pared down to its essential form. We must imagine the rocks, sea, and the color of fog.

Moonrise, 1894, David Davies, courtesy National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Historically, nocturnes were about solitude. In our jazzed, electric world, they're more likely to focus on lighting and energy. Contemporary painter Anthony Watkins is particularly good at nocturnes. He painted a brace of them at Ocean Park and sold them all in a whirl. I love them; I just can’t see how he can stay up all night painting.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

How to make art that stands the test of time

Occasionally, someone wonders whether an emerging painter will end up being a superstar. Can we ever tell?
Iowa Cornfield, 1941, Grant Wood, courtesy Wikipedia.
This week I contemplated a piece of contemporary art with a gallerist. “I don’t see thinking,” she said. “I only see beautiful contours. It’s content-free. There is no struggle.”

I can’t imagine anything more stultifying than striving to be in the Pantheon of Great Artists. However, the question of what makes great art is an important one. Great art must satisfy long after the flash of novelty dissipates. How does it do that?

The Ghent Altarpiece, early 15th century, Hubert and Jan van Eyck, courtesy Wikipedia.
Technique
It ought to go without saying that mastery of one’s craft is the primary job of the artist. Sadly, that’s not always true in contemporary western art, where ephemeral ideas sometimes mean more than specialized competence. However, if one looks back at art which has staying power, it’s always technically superb. How do you get to Carnegie Hall, sister? Practice, practice, practice.

Courage
Art is a process of exploration, a constant revolution. An artist must travel beyond his abilities every time he picks up a brush, or he begins to parody himself. The end of our training is, conversely, the beginning of our real education.

People sometimes tell me that they want to be ‘more consistent’ in their painting. I think that’s a trap, antithetical to the idea of development. A consistent body of work just comes with time.

Saturn Devouring His Son, 1820–23, Francisco Goya, courtesy Wikipedia.
Emotional content
One reason I hate writing artist’s statements is that I believe my real content is inexplicable. You, the outsider, might understand it, but the word-spewing part of my brain never will. Still, I hope my simple trees, boats and rocks convey something greater than their nominal subject.

There’s lots of art that’s didactic, and I’ve produced much of it myself. But didacticism is not necessary. Nor is it the hallmark of real artistic maturity, which somehow moves beyond issues.

The Railway, 1873, Édouard Manet, courtesy Wikipedia.
Within the vision of our times

Johann Sebastian Bach is recognized as one of the greatest composers of history. His period and his style were the Baroque. He was one of its last practitioners. He grew up within its aesthetic and it reached a climax in his writing. He was both within the vision of his time and the full flowering of that vision.

Knowing whether we’re painting within our period is difficult. In my first class with Cornelia Foss, she had me paint an orange on a tray. “If it was 1950, I’d say ‘Brava’,” she said. “But it’s not.” It was the best criticism I’ve ever received—she was telling me my technique was fine, but my style was dated.

We’re not Hudson River painters, we’re not Dutch Golden Age painters. This is the 21st century, and we need to paint what speaks to our peers. That’s often uncomfortable, and frequently a mystery.

You can’t count on your audience for advice with this. They're as mystified as we are.

Bach was forgotten soon after his death. His works were rediscovered by Felix Mendelssohn. In 1823 Mendelssohn’s grandmother gave him a copy of the score for Bach's St. Matthew Passion. Five years later, Mendelssohn mounted a performance of this long-forgotten masterpiece. His selfless promotion of a dead artist gave Bach his rightful place in music history.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The greatest maritime photographer

Wallace MacAskill’s images of the Age of Sail became popular as we careened closer to world war.

A Snug Harbor, Wallace MacAskill
My father was a WW2 Army-Air Force Photographer. He kept his service-issue Speed Graphic. I had plenty of time to mess with it as a kid. As a still camera, it was great, but capturing action was hard.

The only photo I’ve found of Wallace R. MacAskill at work shows him holding an even larger reflex camera. With it he took some of the most famous photos of the Age of Sail.

MacAskill was born in 1887 at St. Peters, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This is a watery place, perched on a narrow strip of land separating the Bras d'Or from the Atlantic. MacAskill bought his first small sailboat at age eleven. He taught himself to sail. A year later, a tourist sent him a camera. At that point, he was grounded in the two pursuits that would define his life.

MacAskill left for New York at seventeen to study photography. At that time, Alfred Stieglitz and Pictorialism dominated the New York photography scene. Pictorialism was an atmospheric, painterly style of photography. The artist strove to project emotional content with soft focus, duotone printing, and markings on the negative.

Gray Dawn (Schooner Bluenose), Wallace MacAskill, was influenced by Pictorialism.
By the time MacAskill graduated in 1907, he had thoroughly absorbed this aesthetic.

Returning to Nova Scotia, he opened a studio in his home town, then one in Glace Bay. In 1915, he moved to Halifax to work for WG MacLaughlan, the city’s official military photographer. From there he moved to a job as a printer in a commercial studio.

In 1920, he moved to the Commercial Photo Service, where he met his future wife, fellow photographer Elva Abriel.

Hand-colored prints of The Road Home were popular wedding gifts.
MacAskill was as avid a sailor as he was a photographer. He joined the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron in 1921. At the helm of his yacht Highlander (a WJ Roué design), he won the Prince of Wales Cup from 1932-34 and again in 1938. He was Vice-Commodore of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron in 1934-35 and Commodore in 1936.

In 1929, MacAskill opened a studio under his own name in Halifax. In 1937, he published his first book, Out of Halifax, which is sadly also now out of print. This established his reputation as an art photographer.
The Bluenose stamp of 1929.
It was MacAskill’s association with Bluenose for which he is most remembered. This boat, designed by Roué and captained by Angus Walters, was a Canadian icon in the 1930s. MacAskill’s images were used on Canada’s 50-cent stamp of 1929 and the Canadian dime of 1937.

By WW2, Halifax’s shipyards were no longer turning out wooden fishing boats. Instead they were building destroyers for the Royal Canadian Navy, and repairing the thousands of ships damaged in the Battle of the Atlantic. As the world careened into world war, images of quaint fishing villages and schooner races seemed safe and reassuring. MacAskill’s popularity rose with the demise of his subjects.

Bluenose Sailing Away, by Wallace MacAskill
MacAskill died at his home in Ferguson Cove, Nova Scotia, in 1956. His widow sold his negatives and business to a Halifax photographer. His images and film reels were eventually donated to the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. They have almost 5000 of them, and they are tightly controlled. You can view them here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My non-existent business plan

The professional painter ought to set some commercial goals. What form should they take?
Michelle reading, by Carol L. Douglas. While I love painting and teaching figure, there's no room for it in my imaginary business plan.
One of the best things about my Ocean-Park-to-Castine week is that I get to spend it with Mary Byrom. We are good buddies but she lives in North Berwick, ME and I live in Rockport. They’re just far enough apart to make casual get-togethers impossible.

There isn’t much time for idle conversation during these plein air events but we do snatch moments. You might think we’d talk about technique or lofty ideals of art. Mostly, we talk business: are you going to [this place]? How were sales at [that place]?

Recently, Mary has been larding her conversation with the phrase “my business plan,” as in, “I’m not sure how that fits in my business plan.”

More work than they bargained for, by Carol L. Douglas. Do boatyard pictures still fit in my business plan?
After Castine, Mary, her husband, and I were enjoying some cold water in my kitchen (a delicious luxury after a week in the sun). Mary mentioned her business plan again. “Mary,” I objected, “Who has a business plan? My business plan is, um, ‘paint something.’” We guffawed, because we all know that artists are notorious for our bad planning skills.

As usual, Mary is several steps ahead of me. I mulled over what she said all afternoon. It makes sense to have a forward agenda. My problem is that I have absolutely no business experience. The whole notion of a business plan is alien to me.

Under the Queensboro Bridge, by Carol L. Douglas. I didn't stop painting urban scenes because of a business plan; I just like painting rocks better.
The distinction between an amateur and a professional is whether one does one’s work for love or money. But it goes deeper than that: it’s about the discipline of working every day, on a schedule. It means treating painting as a real job and not something one does when the mood strikes. Even with this, however, I know artists who work extremely hard and don’t make much money.

That, I think, is because being a painter is so personal. Just as modesty precludes the polite person from telling the world how great he is, it precludes the personally-invested artist from selling his own work. For all of us, a business plan is a fence we could erect to prevent our feelings from hindering our careers.

Butter, by Carol L. Douglas. Still lives were never part of my business plan; they're like practicing scales.
I looked up business plans for artists on the internet. Frankly, they’re gobbledygook to me. I don’t know, for example, how setting a five-year goal of making $200,000 a year in sales can possibly help me attain even a dollar more in sales today. If someone out there is knowledgeable about this and wants to help me understand, I’d love to hear more.

Meanwhile, I do have three simple goals for this year:
  • Add events in the South or Midwest to extend my season. The Northeast jams all our festivals in a four-month period from July to October. This is reasonable considering our climate, but it puts too much pressure on us to be seasonal workers.
  • Diversify my gallery representation into other geographical areas.
  • Paint more boats.

 Does that count as a business plan?

Monday, July 24, 2017

What should I paint?

Getting past the iconic into the intimate means working out what you love about a place.

Apple tree with swing, by Carol L. Douglas

In 2013, I spent a few hours ambling around Castine with my friend Berna. I haven’t spent much time on foot there since. I’m always too busy.

This year, I managed to separate myself from my car keys. While I waited for my husband to drive up from Rockport, I took a quiet walk around town. I poked my nose into places I’ve never investigated.

Flood tide, by Carol L. Douglas
Things look different on foot. A marine creature broke the surface behind the Perkins House. The sweet tones of a flute drew me to a gate I’d never noticed before. The sea sparkled through the garden below.

I had time to ponder Castine’s Post Office. Established in 1794 and in the same building since 1833, it’s one of the nation’s oldest. It’s painted in the bilious yellow-and-rose-brown color scheme that was traditional before New England clapboard turned white. I’ve seen it many times, but never noticed the wooden baskets carved on each corner.

High tide, by Carol L. Douglas
Nor had I ever noted that the fine yellow Georgian on Main Street has brick side walls and a clapboard front. That’s the reverse of the usual pattern, so it’s a curiosity.

At breakfast, Harry and Berna and I pondered another question. If 40 artists each produced six paintings a year for five years, we’ve done 1200 paintings. Castine’s year-round population is 1,366. We’re close to a painting per person.

AM from Jim's deck, by Carol L. Douglas
My math, of course, is absurd. There haven’t always been 40 artists; we don’t always finish six paintings; many non-residents attend the show. But we have certainly painted Castine’s icons many times.

This presents both a problem and an opportunity. The problem can only be solved in one of two ways: either go farther abroad or dig deeper. This year, I painted two works off-the-neck, on properties overlooking the Bagaduce River.

Penobscot Early Morning, by Carol L. Douglas
Opportunity lies in going deeper. I started to notice apple trees. They were everywhere: leaning over an old stone wall, curving over a picket fence, in lawns, straggling along Battle Avenue. They are as much a part of our history as Castine’s fine old churches and houses.

The roots of plein air painting include the 18th century equivalent of picture postcards. It’s easy to fall into that trap, but it’s no longer necessary. 

Adams School, by Carol L. Douglas
Paul Cézanne famously painted Mont Sainte-Victoire over and over, using it as a template on which to work through ideas. There is much to be learned from getting past the iconic into the intimate, and working out what you truly love about a place.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Recovering from failure

What do you do when it’s all going wrong, and there’s an audience for your fiasco?

Can I finish this successfully? Gee, I hope so.
I am tossing around a theory that there’s a sweet spot in composition. On one side, you have the so-called ‘perfect composition.’ We’re always upset when these don’t win prizes, but—hint—they can be boring. On the other side is the total mess that breaks all rules, that is visually jarring and doesn’t satisfy.

Somewhere between them is where I aim to be. I have hit that at times by breaking rules (yes, the same rules I tell my students not to ignore). Not yesterday.

Carol's Bell Curve of Composition
It was a horrible day painting. Nothing I touched worked, and I couldn’t focus. Why?

It’s possible I set myself up to fail. That morning, I told watercolorist Ted Lameyer that I almost never end up flailing around these days.

It’s also possible that physical discomfort was getting in my way. My back is bothering me. And after working for several days in hot sun with insufficient fluids, I have a background dehydration headache.

It’s more likely, however, that the problem lies in the challenges I’ve set myself. I want to scale up my field painting in general. The smallest painting I want to do here is 11X14.

The subjects I mapped out for this year are also difficult. They’re things I’ve shied away from in previous years. For example, Castine’s common is a lovely patch of green ringed by venerable white clapboard buildings. It’s quintessential New England, but it’s basically a void surrounded by subject, with the added fillip of a Civic War monument smack dab in the middle of every view. My solution—a head-on view of the Adams School—may interest me, but it’s going to be a tough composition to wrestle into submission.

Maxwell the boatyard dog. His interest makes me wonder if my late dog Max peed on my backpack.
Still, I have no option but to recover. How will I do that?

There are several painters at this event whose judgment I trust; I will consult them today. Why listen to them rather than my own internal voice, which I usually trust?

In the heat of the moment we often hate what ain’t bad. Last year at this event, I painted the British Canal. I spent half my time on it and disliked the results; I would have run over it and tossed it in the ocean had that been an option. It’s in a collection here in Castine and I saw it last night. It’s actually an interesting and edgy painting but I was too frustrated at the time to realize that.

I find it helpful to remind myself that I don’t have to prove that I can paint; I wouldn’t be here if I couldn't. I try to block out what happened yesterday. Above all, I don’t perseverate over failing paintings; I move on.

And, lastly, I make sure I get enough sleep. Sometimes my worst failures are from simple exhaustion. Fix that, and I’m once again my usual chirpy self.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Swanning-around song

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep. (Robert Frost)

Full stop, by Carol L. Douglas
Route 3 from Augusta to Belfast is my least-favorite nighttime road. I love my Prius but it’s a small car. I’ve avoided any deer in its quarter of a million miles; I do not want to hit a moose. But inland and over is the quickest route from Ocean Park to Castine, ME. I struggled to see as the road wound and dipped around lakes and hills. As I approached Belfast, I saw a skunk doing his little shuffle on the shoulder of the road. He was small and it was late. Had I hit him, both of us would have been grieved.

Luckily, I only drive this way once a year, on the way from Ocean Park Art in the Park to Castine Plein Air. Since I love both shows equally, the late-night drive is a necessity.

Russel Whitten took a short break to give a painting lesson on his way into the show and sale.
I finished framing yesterday with enough time to paint the small study at the top of this post. Rarely is that last painting worthwhile. I’m tired and rushed and should be cleaning up and preparing for the next event, instead of trying to crank one more painting out. That’s particularly true when doing two events back-to-back. In this case, I was more than happy with the results.

Framing on the road.
I can frame quickly because I work in standard sizes. I keep a log on my phone of the frames I’m carrying and the ones I’ve used so far. I’ve included a small photo essay about the tools and materials for framing. It’s the unglamorous part of plein air events, but it’s very important.

A glazing-point driver is a necessity for the serious plein air painter. This one is made by Fletcher.
I used to carry a cordless drill, but this old fellah is more accurate and lighter.
All the hardware I'll ever need is in this case.
It is the collectors who make plein air events possible. In Ocean Park, Jean C. Hager-Rich has been a loyal supporter since the beginning. She tries to be the first in, makes quick decisions, and supports everyone with impartiality. A collector like Jean can set the tone for the whole event.

Equally important are our hosts, who open their homes and their lives to us for several days each summer. And then there are the volunteers, whose titles may be grand but whose tasks tend toward the humble.

After leaving Ocean Park, I zoomed around in the hills for what seemed like hours (because it was hours). I arrived at my hosts’ house shortly before 11. Harry met me at the door, concerned at my late arrival. Normally his wife is here to greet me, but she is swanning around the Eastern Seaboard. In the last three weeks, she has zoomed from Maine to New Jersey to Montreal, back to New Jersey, and then to Pennsylvania. She is returning to Maine today.

I need to recruit her as my wingman; clearly we are soul sisters.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tank half empty, week half full

A show and sale at Ocean Park tonight, and we are then off running to Castine.

Beach time, by Carol L. Douglas
“I’m not doing a preparatory sketch, a value study, nothing!” I announced to Ed Buonvecchio as I flopped down on a bench next to him and pulled out my tripod. It’s terrible practice, and I would never recommend it to my students.

Still, I can’t help smiling at the resulting painting. A passer-by smiled and said, “Now, that’s Ocean Park!” I believe in process, but I also hope to communicate some of the joy of the beach, the fog, and the sun. That’s why I paint in the first place.

It was the last of my six paintings for Ocean Park Art in the Park. I have no idea if they’re better or worse than last year’s. Nor am I overly worried. I’m not judgmental about others’ work; why would I do that to myself?

Cupholders are for cleaning brushes, right?
I’m going to spend the morning framing and digging out my car. Then I’ll deliver my work. If there’s time, I’ll paint one more painting, just for fun. Then I’ll shower, put on my party clothes, and head over to the show and sale.

That’s from 5-7 PM at the Ocean Park Temple. This 1881 octagonal frame structure is worth seeing. It's beautiful and redolent of 19th century values and tradition. Tonight, it will have the bonus of a very good wet paint show. (You can find it by programming 46-62 Temple Ave, Old Orchard Beach, ME in your phone.) I’ll be on the stage with Mary Byrom. No, we are not singing or dancing.

Beach toys, by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday I was in front of the Ocean Park Soda Fountain at 8 AM. This building has exercised a mesmerizing charm on me this year. I set up to paint the beach toys on the gift shop side.

I’d like to tell you how many hours I painted “in earnest.” However, there was never any seriousness about it. I’ve painted in Manhattan many times, but never spoken with as many people as I did yesterday. Since they were at the beach, they were all happy. I think it comes through in my painting.

Talking with passers-by is part of what itinerant plein air painters do. If we didn’t like people, we’d be home in our studios, harrumphing along quietly.

The roof of the historic Temple at Ocean Park
Many people told me they saw a story about us in the Journal Tribune, and felt welcomed to talk to an artist. It’s rare that I see an immediate response to a news story like that.

A number of people also mentioned seeing my painting of Fort Point Historic Site in the Bangor Daily News, as part of the publicity for Wet Paint on the Weskeag. The preview and sale will be at the Kelpie Gallery in South Thomaston on August 13 from 4-8 PM.

But before that happens, I’ve got many miles to go. Tonight, after the last paintings are packed up and the Temple lights dim, Mary Byrom, Anthony Watkins and I leave for Castine Plein Air. We will roll into that quiet village a few minutes before midnight. Tomorrow we line up bright and early on the Village Green to have our canvases stamped, and we are off and running again.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Woman about town

The joys of a beach vacation: drying towels and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.

Drying towels, by Carol L. Douglas
Cheney Cottage, built in 1881, is now owned by the Ocean Park Association. It includes the Prophet’s Chamber, where the guest preacher stays. A shuffleboard court graces the side lawn; it’s run by a fifth generation Ocean Parker. The rambling old cottage itself is holiday housing.

Accompanied by early-morning birdsong, I strolled down Temple Avenue. I was looking for a streetscape that would capture the leafy greens, genteel architecture and relaxed summer feel of Ocean Park. Bright drying towels on the rail at Cheney Cottage caught my eye. They reminded me of summer trips to Maine when my kids were young.

As always, I did a value sketch before I started. From there I transferred my drawing to a 9X12 canvasboard. I frowned; it was too small. I decided to scale it up to 11X14.

I must have needed more coffee or something, because when I was done, the house was the same size as on the 9X12, but with more foreground showing. 

The temptation in this situation is to add an object to the foreground to fix the bad design. I experimented with a figure, but it didn’t work. Adding objects as an afterthought usually makes things worse, drawing the eye away from the primary subject. 

No matter; the house sits under great mature spruces, so the lawn was dappled with light and shadow. Having more foreground turned out to be no problem at all.

One of the great joys of plein air painting is the people you meet along the way. Cheney Cottage is currently occupied by an extended family who vacation together every year. Many of them stopped to see what I was doing. I spoke with an aunt who now stays across the street. As the family grows, there’s no longer room for them all in the old place.

The composition that was not to be.
I’m staying in the “new” part of the park, where cottages date from the 1920s and 1930s. In some ways, the character of Ocean Park—like everywhere—is inexorably changing. A long-term resident lamented the new builds in town. “Someday, all the old places will be gone,” she said. But not any time soon, thank goodness.

In the afternoon, I revisited a subject I’ve painted twice before: the Ocean Park Ice Cream Parlor. Here in southern Maine, the land is low, level and sandy. That makes wandering around with one’s gear easier, but it makes sight lines more challenging.

It helps to know perspective drawing, even when you're feeling expressive.
No matter what angle I choose, the foundation of the ice cream parlor remains resolutely parallel to my picture plane. I’d explored the possibilities of that on Sunday with my surf painting, I didn’t want to do it again. I set up about three different paintings and wiped them out. Then a couple stopped to read the outside menu board. Idly, I sketched them on my canvas. I liked them, and built the rest of the painting to support them.

Over the afternoon, my figures morphed into a father and a child, and another person materialized. By 4 PM, both the painting and I were done.

What's for lunch? by Carol L. Douglas
In the evening we had a lively reception for the artists. I went home to nap, intending to go out with Russel Whitten to do a nocturne. But when I awoke at 8:15, my eyes were nearly as red as my shirt. I went back to sleep.

This morning, the fog is not limited to my head. Fog makes for good painting, so I’m heading out in a few minutes. If you’re in southern Maine this morning, stop to see me. You can get directions at Jakeman Hall, at 14 Temple Avenue.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reunion

The aurora borealis didn’t show up, but my friends did. Our plein air event at Ocean Park is off to a great start.
The new sandbar, 10X8, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas

I arrived in Ocean Park in a flurry of excitement. The sun has been kicking up an electro-magnetic storm and it was possible the Aurora Borealis would be visible as far south as Boston. While Ocean Park is two hours south of my house, I thought there was a good chance we might get a glimpse of them.

I’ve seen the Northern Lights many times, but never with paints in hand. I’ve painted them in my studio but I long to paint them en plein air.

Goosefare Brook oxbow, 8X6, painted last year. It's gone now.
To that end, Frank Gwalthney and I drove down to Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. This 50-mile-long Federal preserve touches Ocean Park. In addition to sheltering sea birds, it also provides an oasis of dark sky in Vacationland. But, alas, there was no shimmering green light, merely beautiful stars.

I spent five weeks painting in Canada and Alaska last year and never saw them there, either. They are fickle and shy.

Still, it’s not what you don’t have; it’s what you do have, and what I have is a happy band of painters whom I treasure as friends. Anthony Watkins set up to paint the Ocean Park Ice Cream Fountain. The rest of us headed off to the mouth of Goosefare Brook.

The Heavens Declare, 48X36, oil on linen, by Carol L. Douglas. Once again, I miss the chance to paint Aurora Borealis in the wild.
We’d heard that the tides had scoured out a new channel for the brook, but I was unmoved. Goosefare Brook wiggles around in its basin annually. My skepticism was misplaced. The oxbow is entirely gone. Its hundreds of tons of sand now sit out in the ocean as a new sandbar off the creek’s mouth. This has created a tidal pool of still water, suitable for young kids and anyone else who doesn’t want to fight breakers.

We understand that the ocean is unfathomably powerful, but that tangible proof is more convincing than any number of warnings.

Straight-on breakers, 10X8, by Carol L. Douglas
Despite our slow start and happy chatter, we all managed to turn out credible first paintings. In a few minutes, I’m heading downtown to start my first painting of the day. I think it will be a streetscape. If you’re in southern Maine this morning, stop to see me. You can get directions at Jakeman Hall, at 14 Temple Avenue. (If you’re new to Ocean Park, you may need to set your GPS for Old Orchard Beach.)


See you soon!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday flotsam and jetsam

What’s a studio visit all about? And how do you prep for it while prepping to go on the road?
Outrunning the Storm, 30X48, is finished and awaiting delivery to Camden Falls Gallery.

Bobbi Heath is co-hosting Leslie Saeta’s Artists Helping Artists this month. They discussed this blog yesterday in the segment called What We Can Learn From the Top Rated Artist’s Blogs.

Thank you! Artists Helping Artists is the top-rated art show on blogtalk radio.

Bobbi will be recording the next one during the middle of Castine Plein Air. That will be a tough balancing act, since she’s also a participating artist.

My host for Castine texted me yesterday. She’s in New Jersey and wanted me to know that it was 95° F. there and 59° in Castine. That’s perfect painting weather.

We don’t have or need air conditioning here in coastal Maine. The air off the North Atlantic keeps us comfortable. The average high temperature here is 76° in July and 75° in August. Bear that in mind if you’re thinking about my workshop in August.

I’m packing for next week’s events. Yesterday, I got a text from another painter. “I’m bringing 14 frames to Castine,” she told me. “I have four that are a different molding than the others. I want to try them out. And most of them are already wired so they aren't extra work. And I have seven sizes, mostly in pairs. Am I nuts?”

This is what's on my easel. It's based on a pre-dawn sail out of Camden last summer.
That’s a lot of frame for the six paintings she’s limited to, but her car is big enough. I always carry a variety of frames, so I can choose finishes and sizes depending on what I end up finishing.

I’m expecting a studio visit when I get home next weekend. Before I leave, my studio needs to be prepped. I keep regular open hours so it’s always presentable, but there are special considerations for a gallerist’s visit.

Although my studio isn’t vast, it is first and foremost a workshop. What I’m working on right now is part of my story. I don’t clear it away unless it’s unusually fragile.

There are many reasons for a gallerist or collector to visit us: to select work for a show, to see new work, or just to get to know us better. The same rules of hospitality that you apply in your house are appropriate in your studio. Turn off the stereo, ignore your phone and offer your guests refreshment.

Spring at the Boatyard will be going soon as well, en route to the Rye Art Center in Rye, NY.
Some experts recommend preparing a presentation on your work and its evolution. I have a strong internet presence, so I think that’s overkill. If I didn’t, a binder with earlier work, postcards and clippings would be appropriate.

If a person is interested in earlier work, I can pull out representative samples from storage. But most people are not interested in my past, but what I’m painting now.

Ready for visitors: neat, clean but not stripped of my work.
My studio functions as a gallery during the summer months, so there’s already a small selection of work hanging. However, the studio visit isn’t primarily to ‘sell’ art; it’s really to get to know the artist better. Think of it as a professional visit between two peers.

What do we talk about? The work, mostly: where it was done, what it means to me, and where I’m going with the ideas. Artists tend to be shy about this kind of interaction, especially when nervous. It helps me to remember that I don’t need to “sell” myself; the visit itself indicates a genuine interest in my work.

However, you don’t need to fill dead air space either. Give your visitor a chance to really look at your art.